Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Why Do We Worship?
September 25, 2016
Grace and Peace in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I love Confirmation kids. I love engaging with them as they begin to truly comprehend, and sometimes wrestle with their faith. I love to watch them transition from being kids to young adults. I love those moments when they speak up and they dig in and they make their stand on an issue. But what I love most of all about confirmation kids is their honesty.
Last spring in confirmation class while learning about the Third Commandment, about Remembering the Sabbath to keep it Holy, I threw out a question and asked them to answer in all honesty, which is what they were going to do anyway. The question I asked: “How many of you think that church is boring? Out of the twenty-five or so kids who were present, I didn’t need to count hands, because every single one of them went up, and rather quickly, I might add. The “entertainment” value of church, which they sought, just wasn’t there.
As I said, I appreciate their honesty, and from this response came a great conversation that boiled down to the fact that church, worship, while it can be entertaining at times, serves a much greater and deeper purpose, of which we will begin to explore this morning.
Worship stands at the center of our life of faith. Through God’s word, water, bread and prayer we are nurtured in faith and sent out into the world. Connected with and central to everything we do, worship unites us in celebration, engages us in thoughtful dialogue and helps us grow in faith. It grounds us in our Christian roots, while demonstrating practical relevance for today’s world.
But there is also a basic pattern for worship among Lutherans and all other mainline Christians, which is what we will really focus on this morning. We gather. We encounter God’s word. We share a meal at the Lord’s table. And we are sent into the world. But in all of this, we are reminded to not think about worship so much in terms of what we do, but that worship is fundamentally about what God is doing and our response to God’s action. Worship is an encounter with God,
who saves us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And we begin that encounter through our initial gathering, an encounter which begins with the outline of a fish.
I imagine that you all are familiar with the fish symbol as representation of Christianity, though I don’t know how many of you are familiar with why the fish represents Christianity. In the first century, Greeks, Romans, and many other pagans used the fish symbol, so the fish, unlike, say, the cross, attracted little suspicion, making it a perfect secret symbol for persecuted believers. When threatened by Romans in the first centuries after Christ, Christians used the fish to mark meeting places and tombs, or to distinguish friends from foes. According to one ancient story, when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, to complete the fish, both believers knew they were in good company. The other was a person with whom he could worship God in Christ.
We gather together because we complete one another. We gather together with a common mission in a safe and sacred space. We bring to this place our joys, our fears, our hopes and our dreams. We gather together and in that gathering acknowledge that we are sinful people and then receive the forgiveness of Christ in that gathering. No one is more of a sinner. No one is more forgiven. We gather together to be reminded that to call yourself a Christian comes with unity with all others who call themselves Christians as well.
Secondly, we experience the Word. This includes the scripture, the Psalms, and the sermon. Martin Luther stressed the centrality of the Word in our lives of faith, and that same Word is central in our worship experience as well.
And if the Word is central to our worship and to our everyday lives, the Word then serves as the primary hinge of our lives. We hear the Word and are reminded of our very sinful acts and nature and the Word reminds us, and rather poignantly so sometimes, that we deserve eternal damnation for the words that we have said, for our blatant and subtle actions alike that do anything but reflect our Christian identity. We hear the Word and are made painfully aware that every last one of us fall short of the glory of God, which is necessary if we are to experience eternal life. The Word of God condemns us.
But that very same Word that condemns us, is what grants us hope, life, and salvation. The children in a prominent family decided to give their father a book of the family’s history for a birthday present. They commissioned a professional biographer to do the work, carefully warning him of the family’s “black sheep” problem: Uncle George had been executed in the electric chair for murder. The biographer assured the children, “I can handle that situation so that there will be no embarrassment. I’ll merely say that Uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution. He was attached to his position by the strongest of ties and his death came as a real shock.”
In humbly acknowledging our “black sheep” status, the Word enables us to rewrite our story into God’s ongoing story of life and salvation, life in this world as well as life in the next. Through the Word being heard, as well as through the preaching of the Word, we are reminded that God loves us so much that God is willing to, and has gone to, any and all extremes to empower us to live freely and to share that story with those who long to and need to hear that Word as well. That is the hinge that the Word of God plays in our lives. The Word is necessary.
Third, we share the meal. Holy Communion is one of two sacraments (a sacrament being a physical manifestation of God) that we celebrate in the Lutheran church. While we are not sharing in the Lord’s Supper today, we are able to celebrate the other sacrament, Baptism (in our 10:00 worship).
God came to us as one of us, as Jesus Christ, fully human, born of a virgin human mother. And just like God came to us so that we could be fully in communion with God, through the elements of water, wine, and bread, earthly and human elements, we are able to be fully in communion with God still. Through the power of the Holy Spirit coming into the waters of baptism, we are claimed by God by being washed inside and out, making us pure and holy, and right before God, exactly how God demands that we come before Him.
Through the invitation of the Spirit to come into the bread and wine of our communion meal, the bread, while looking and tasting like a flat wafer, becomes the true body of Christ, and it is only through our belief that Christ is present, that the lens of faith allows us to see this.
The same holds true for the wine becoming the blood of Christ. It is through the lens of faith, in this setting, with those who believe this as well, that we truly experience the consumption of Jesus Christ, who, through this meal, forgives our sins, and feeds us with a meal that sustains us for this life of faith and witness.
As Christians, through the act of asking and receiving forgiveness, we are able to put on that lens of faith. Without recognizing our sinful nature and without receiving forgiveness for it, we are assuming that we don’t need nor desire the Spirit to come into our lives. So it is imperative that we take part in this meal because this meal is what sustains our faith. We may say we believe and we may think that we truly believe, but unless we are witness to Jesus Christ being present in our midst through these common elements of water, wine, and bread, our faith is compromised and lacking. Without experiencing Holy Communion, we are incomplete. The church in worship offers the lens to see that completeness.
Lastly, we’re sent out. Now, I know that I’m not alone when I confess that there have been many Sundays when I’ve sat in a pew and “checked off” the order of service. There were Sundays where I thought, “We’re going to be her forever!” and Sundays where I looked down and thought, “Almost done….I get to go home and eat!” I won’t ask you to raise your hands if you’ve done this, like I did the confirmation kids, simply out of fear that you’ll honestly answer as well.
But the sending, the final episode of our worship experience, is not the signal that church is done, but instead is the catalyst that sends us outside of these four walls to recreate our faith experience in our everyday lives. The sending is not an ending, but is the accumulation of everything else that we’ve done in worship, tying it all together, and empowering us to be stewards of Christian discipleship.
It means that we are free to go out and to forgive others just as we’ve been forgiven in this assembly. It means that we’re free to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, just as we’ve received that Good News among the other faithful. It means that we are free to feed others through justice and actions, just as we’ve been fed through the generous hand of God in the meal of the Eucharist. It means that we are free to live in the grace of God and to invite others to live within that grace as well.
This is why we gather here, my friends. Week in and week out, we come from our separate and unique corners and we give thanks to God for God’s presence in our lives and it is here, in this sanctuary, that we see, feel, hear, taste, and are enveloped by God’s presence. Let us give thanks to our God, who knows no boundaries in reaching out and gathering us in, and knocks down all barriers so that we can go out from here and live in that love. Amen.